Perez Confident He Can Fill Void

Thanks to injuries to his pitching staff, University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris has spent much of the last month looking for a pair of reliable starters that would give the Hurricanes a boost heading into the stretch drive of the regular season.

And if Morris listens to some advice from within his own dugout he doesn't have to look very far.

Although last weekend's demolishing of Pace College in a three-game series at Mark Light Field softens the blow of dropping four of six games to top-ranked Florida State, Morris still believes the Hurricanes are a pitcher (or two) away from doing any serious damage in the 10 remaining regular season games and beyond.

"We're still a little short in starting pitching. You can never have enough arms," said Morris. "If we can't get any consistency out of our No. 3 or No. 4 guy then we might be in trouble."

Enter junior left-hander Alex Perez.

Despite mixed reviews so far this season, which include a short outing in a loss at Florida State just two weeks ago, Perez is confident that he can give Morris exactly what he's looking for. The 6-4, 225 pounder will get another chance to do just that when the 15th-ranked Hurricanes (32-11-1) hit the road for a three-game series against Jacksonville (24-25), starting Friday May 9 at 7 p.m. The teams will play games Saturday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) as well.

"I know I can get the job done if given the chance to stay in the rotation," said Perez, who is coming off a victory over Pace College in the series finale. Perez pitched five innings and allowed just two hits to earn his first win at UM. He added three strikeouts. "But I don't feel any pressure at all. I'm getting a chance to start and hopefully I can prove to the coaching staff that they made the right decision."

And after losing staff ace Dan Touchet to season-ending elbow surgery and right-hander Vince Bongiovanni to a sore elbow earlier this month, Morris will take any help he can get.

Perez, a first-team All-American at Bookdale Community College who compiled a 17-3 record in two seasons, was in line to open the season as one of the Hurricanes starting pitchers. But a bone spur in his throwing elbow, discovered during the first day of practice, washed out those plans and sidelined the southpaw.

Over five months later Perez, who came to UM with the reputation as a hard-thrower, is still trying to reach the velocity that made him a star at Perth Amboy High School and junior college. Perez said Wednesday that he is currently topping at in the high 80's with his fastball. Before the injury, Perez was regularly in the high 90's

"I'm just trying to stay positive right now," says Perez. "If I can keep the ball down and use my fastball effectively I'll be alright. I feel my velocity will return, I just need to stay in a positive frame of mind."

Morris said earlier this week that Perez has the potential to be an ‘outstanding' pitcher for the Hurricanes but he won't be in the rotation much longer if he doesn't perform well. For the most part Perez has struggled. Perez has allowed 20 runs (18 earned) and 26 hits in 22 1/3 innings pitched. Perez has recorded 11 strikeouts and issued 10 walks, while opponents are hitting a collective .292 against him. Perez has allowed nine extra-base hits.

Against FSU, Perez was touched up for six runs and seven hits in less than three innings. Still, Perez is adamant about remaining in the Hurricanes rotation.

"I know I can pitch at this level. I've done it before," says Perez.

Should Perez falter in his quest to stay in the rotation the Hurricanes still have the services of a couple of arms that have given them plenty to cheer about this season. Junior left-hander J. D. Cockroft, who took over Touchet's spot in the rotation, has been stellar at the top of the rotation and strengthened his status as Miami's No. 1 starter in the process. Cockroft (7-2, 2.30 ERA) is also coming off a victory against Pace College. Left-hander Brandon Camardese (7-0, 4.40) has also earned Morris' praise as of late. Morris hopes that the Hurricanes can find consistency in the bottom part of their rotation with Perez leading the way. Ryan Dixon (0-0, 7.71) has been ineffective in five starts this season.

Miami will take on a Jacksonville team that has struggled offensively and failed to get a lot of help from their pitching rotation. The Dolphins, who are 3-5 against ranked teams, including an 11-3 loss to Florida State on Tuesday, are hitting .280 as a team with only two regular starters above .300. Chad Hausemen leads the team with a .407 batting average, 16 home runs and 35 RBI to go with a .765 slugging percentage. Gordi Gronkowski has four home runs and 28 RBI. Gronkowski is hitting .350.

Miami has three regular season home games remaining The Hurricanes will host Savannah State May 16-18 before closing the regular season at Long Beach State.

"We have to win all of our remaining games at home, there's no question about it," said Morris. "Most baseball teams around the country win at home so that's going to be crucial for us down the stretch."

The NCAA regionals start May 30.

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